The Cuban government appears to have acted wisely and in a political way in response to small protests that took place in Havana, Santiago and a number of Cuban towns on July 12.
These protests expressed an anger among some sectors of the community over shortages of food, medicine and electricity and the generally increasing hardship being experienced at present in Cuba. The demonstrations blamed the government for these problems, and not the 60 yearlong US embargo of Cuba’s tiny economy, nor the intensification of this embargo under Trump, such as the 243 new coercive measures implemented at the height of the pandemic in January 2021 before he left office.
Some of the protesters were demanding to be vaccinated against Covid19. Cuba has developed five vaccines locally, but its vaccine roll-out is now being slowed by a shortage of syringes and other imported medical equipment. Case numbers are now increasing rapidly hitting 6000 daily cases in July. As has occurred across the world this has put severe pressure on the medical system causing a large number of shortages and problems.
Some protesters lead calls for an end to the socialist system. It appears that these demonstrations were coordinated with far-right elements in the United States. Anti-socialist Cubans in Miami and right-wingers across the US were ready to respond with statements of support and with simultaneous actions. Democrat politicians also followed suit including US President Joe Biden. Some left groups who have long held the position that the Cuban government needs to be overthrown through a political revolution also echoed mainstream support for the protests.
The demonstrations were relatively small and so far have not been repeated. Despite giving blanket and supportive coverage, mainstream news agencies such as Reuters, Associated Press and the Guardian could find no photo that put the number of opposition protesters in any location above around 1000 people.
In some instances where cars were overturned and stones thrown, there were incidents with the police and some arrests were made. The hostile corporate media have been unable to find any footage to verify the repeated claims that police repressed the protest and brutalised people. Both claims appear to be false.
The government responded, first of all, when Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel and other Communist Party members visited the neighbourhoods where the protests started in order to talk with the residents there. The President and other Cuban leaders have made extensive comments on television presenting their arguments regarding the difficulties the country faces. These include acknowledging the need for some adjustments and improvements in how the economic crisis is being handled.
In televised comments Miguel Díaz-Canel later called on supporters of the Cuban revolution – the actually existing revolution – to go onto the streets immediately to confront the protests and to return to the streets if and when further protests are organised. As a result, there were many demonstrations across Cuba supporting the government and protesting US intervention. Western media, including in Australia, have avoided mentioning or showing footage of these demonstrations.
There has been no repression of the ongoing lively discussions of policy in Cuba, in which many critical Marxists and communists participate. On Feb 24 2019 some 80 percent of eligible Cuban voters supported the adoption of a new constitution that involves significant changes such as presidential term and age limits and important reforms to the National Assembly of People’s power and criminal code. This followed an intensive and wide reaching national dialogue that brought about many changes.
Development and Progress Under Constant Attack
Cuba’s success in providing high levels of health care, education, security of livelihood and enriched cultural life in an otherwise very low GDP per capita Third World country stands in remarkable contrast to poor capitalist Third World countries. This is even more remarkable given it has been subject to the hostile policies of the richest and most powerful country in the world, the United States.
Most devastating has been the six decade long economic blockade against Cuba, which includes provisions banning any companies around the world from doing business with Cuba. For example, the ANZ bank in 2009 paid $7 million in fines to the US government for violation of this legislation.
As a small island country of just 11 million people, it is essential for Cuba to be able to import many types of goods. The hostility of the United States is even more devastating because, as Cuba’s closest neighbour, the US is also its natural trading partner. Cuba’s survival was initially aided by the Soviet Union, but now it needs to rely on trade with those other low GDP per capita countries in the Third World who resist the dictates of the United States.
At the same time, judging from the small size of the opposition protests, the immediate revolutionary counter demonstrations, the participation in the recent constitutional reform discussion and referendum it seems clear that the vast majority of Cuban people understand it is not Cuba’s government that is the source of the problem but U.S. policies towards Cuba. Most are aware that Cuba’s remarkable social achievements results from having a government that fights to defend the interests of Cuban working people. And that the revolution has created a social framework where most people can and do commit their working lives to struggle for the social good.
The hostility of the US, and especially its 60 year long blockade – which was condemned by the United Nations General Assembly on June 23 by a vote of 184 to 2 – means that advancing the economy and society of Cuba is not simply a technocratic development challenge but a political struggle. It would be a mistake of enormous proportions to think that developing Cuban society has been, or will be, primarily a question of technocratic policy management. No decision, in any field, can be taken in Cuba separate from the fight against U.S. imperialism. Cuba has conducted this fight based on being able to mobilise a well-informed and political conscious majority of the population. Raising educational, cultural and organisational levels as much as resources allow has been crucial. All economic policy, under Cuba’s conditions, will involve managing scarcity and suffering. A policy programme that can succeed in raising levels of welfare and culture, despite scarcity and suffering, can only be carried out effectively with the genuine support of the population. It requires an idealistic population – at least a big majority of such people – willing to share sacrifices.
The alternative model is that which is seen in capitalist (low GDP per capita) Third World countries, and increasingly in the United States itself. This is characterised by a society where progress is defined by the growth of a layer of relatively prosperous people – the “middle class” – while the rest are abandoned to poverty of one kind or another. Opponents of Cuban socialism are defining ‘freedom’ as the freedom to be able to claw a way into a middle class freed of any obligation to share the costs of advancing everybody.
The need for such idealistic sacrifice in Third World countries exists in the first place because of the poverty flowing from hundreds of years of theft and exploitation by imperialism. This need would be dramatically reduced, even eliminated, if the flow of wealth – which is currently from the poor to the rich, exploiter countries – were reversed – and flowed from the rich to poor societies – as Fidel Castro always argued.
No country can develop rapidly without access to world trade, finance and technologies. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba has not only survived but – after the initial period of crisis – made significant gains in healthcare, culture, science, social reform and other areas. However, the reality is also that most people’s daily life involves grinding struggle against shortages, lack of material resources and poverty.
Cuban state subsidies make basic necessities like housing, electricity, health, education, sport, cinema and other cultural activities free or almost free. In addition the ration book (“libreta”) provides basic nutritional and calorific needs for the whole population – at least outside of periods of crisis. However, Cuban wages are around $20 per month, much of which is taken up buying imported items that cannot be included in the ration, or not adequately, due to scarcity – such as shampoo, toothpaste, phones and other necessities, or extra food.
Cubans who are sent money from family in the United States have additional income. This is often far higher than Cuban wages. But Trump’s financial sanctions cut off remittances and also rolled back US tourism. The pandemic has been another hit to international tourism. Both of those sectors whose social existence can be independent of the revolutionary government and movement have taken a hit.
US imperialism and the counter-revolutionary Cuban community in Miami sees an opportunity. Every effort will be made to stir up resentment, especially among those that dream of being part of a ‘middle class’ freed from the ‘oppression’ of idealism. The United States will not give up in its struggle to destroy Cuban socialism. No element of the US ruling class is relenting from this hostile stance.
Already calls have gone out for US intervention by organised groups of far right Cubans across the United States mobilising around twitter hashtag #SOScuba. In this context, maximum support for socialist Cuba, its people and government, will be important. Campaigns to build such support have normally been led by socialist groups around the world, including within imperialist countries.
In many imperialist countries, the socialist left has suffered setbacks weakening the capacity to educate and lead. Left groups that have been unable to recognise the process in Cuba as revolutionary, and don’t appreciate the social progress, now have a larger relative presence than in earlier periods. They are often imbued with a hostile outlook towards Cuba and a strange lack of appreciation of human conditions in the Third World. Their propaganda often echoes and reinforces that of the US and other imperialist ruling classes even to the extent of calling on working people to back the far-right counter-revolutionary campaign.
In the ‘belly of the beast’, the United States itself, it is important to recognise the important work done by the Party for Socialism and Liberation (pslweb.org) whose statement we will re-publish on Red Ant. There are no doubt other groups and individuals doing good work, but it is important to recognise the PSL’s work as an organised socialist party group. Red Ant members share a similar sentiment as that reflected in the PSL statement.
It has become something of a contemporary tradition to end a statement of this kind with an affirmation that support for socialist Cuba and its government does not mean that the government has not made mistakes which need to be criticised or even opposed. Usually this is affirmed without examples or serious argument. Being human beings, no doubt mistakes are made and, within the state apparatus, human failings and even weaknesses in processes exist, as they do among all groups of human beings. We provide no such final flourishes.
The Cuban revolution’s progress is a fundamentally political challenge. The revolutionary movement must constantly assess and re-asses its available human resources. It must constantly assess and re-asses its available levels of consciousness and commitment, its available material resources and many other factors. Criticisms and opposition that are actually useful in advancing the struggle will almost always come from the only people who are well informed enough about the real situation – revolutionaries within the movement and from within the Cuban party.
The triumph of counter-revolution in Cuba would be a huge set-back for the socialist movement everywhere. All those who – like the Cuban Communist Party and vast majority of the Cuban people – seek the defeat and over-throw of capitalist imperialism, should be prepared to stand with Cuba in this critical period.